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The Lives of Things

The Lives of Things

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The Lives of Things

4/5 (2 avaliações)
137 página
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Lançado em:
Apr 25, 2012


The Lives of Things collects José Saramago’s early experiments with the short story form, attesting to the young novelist’s imaginative power and incomparable skill in elaborating the most extravagant fantasies. Combining bitter satire, outrageous parody and Kafkaesque hallucinations, these stories explore the horror and repression that paralyzed Portugal under the Salazar regime and pay tribute to human resilience in the face of injustice and institutionalized tyranny.

Beautifully written and deeply unsettling, The Lives of Things illuminates the development of Saramago’s prose and records the genesis of themes that resound throughout his novels.
Lançado em:
Apr 25, 2012

Sobre o autor

JOSÉ SARAMAGO (1922–2010) was the author of many novels, among them Blindness, All the Names, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Amostra do Livro

The Lives of Things - José Saramago


Short Stories

José Saramago

Translated by

Giovanni Pontiero

London • New York

This English-language edition first published by Verso 2012

© Verso 2012

Translation and foreword © Giovanni Pontiero 2012

First published as Objecto Quase

© Editora Duetto 1978

All rights reserved

The moral rights of the authors have been asserted

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2


UK: 6 Meard Street, London W1F 0EG

US: 20 Jay Street, Suite 1010, Brooklyn, NY 11201


Verso is the imprint of New Left Books

Epub ISBN-13: 978-1-84467-908-9

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Saramago, José.

[Objecto quase. English]

The lives of things : short stories / José Saramago ;

translated by Giovanni Pontiero.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-1-84467-878-5 (alk. paper)

I. Pontiero, Giovanni. II. Title.

PQ9281.A66O2513 2012

869.3'42- -dc23


If man is shaped by his environment, his environment must be made human.

K. Marx and F. Engels

The Holy Family



The Chair




The Centaur




First published in 1978, this collection of six stories, originally entitled Objecto Quase, attests to the inventive powers of a remarkable novelist who is no less adept at mastering the techniques of shorter narrative forms. A master of suspense, he holds our attention with a subtle alternation of incisive statements and speculative digressions. Three of the stories, ‘The Chair’, ‘Embargo’ and ‘Things’, might be described as political allegories evoking the horror and repression which paralysed Portugal under the harsh regime of Salazar. The most powerful of these is ‘The Chair’, the symbol of the dictator’s dramatic departure from the political scene on 6 September 1968, when the deckchair in which he was sitting collapsed and the shock precipitated a brain haemorrhage. In these narratives Saramago deploys his incomparable skill in expanding a metaphor and weaving myriad associations around the same obsessive image. With humour and compassion, he denounces the abuse of power and pays tribute to human resilience and man’s will to survive in the face of injustice and institutionalised tyranny. Here the moods vary from bitter satire and outrageous parody to Kafkaesque hallucinations when fear engenders a sense of unreality and drives a bewildered society to the brink of despair. The prevailing atmosphere in these stories is that of claustrophobia and collective hysteria. Hence the triumphant note of celebration when the fetters of censorship and prohibition are finally broken and the human spirit can breathe freely once more.

The remaining three stories in the collection provide an interesting contrast in terms of theme and tonality. And although written in a more lyrical vein, they reveal the same essential process of illumination and enhancement. The extinction of ‘The Centaur’ is mourned with unbearable nostalgia and pathos as the author probes the disquieting duality of this mythical creature. ‘Revenge’ explores the awakening desires and perceptions of adolescence with the utmost delicacy, and ‘Reflux’ admirably illustrates the author’s instinctive sense of form and symmetry even while elaborating the most extravagant fantasies.

The one recurring theme in this collection is that of death. In these stories, however, death assumes many guises and is not necessarily physical. Nor need death imply finality. The long-awaited exit of a dictator or monarch in Saramago’s fictions nearly always heralds a new era of freedom whereby ordinary men and women can emerge from nightmare and rebuild their lives.

Giovanni Pontiero

Manchester, May 1994

The Chair

The chair started to fall, to come crashing down, to topple, but not, strictly speaking, to come to bits. Strictly speaking, to come to bits means bits fall off. Now no one speaks of the chair having bits, and if it had bits, such as arms on each side, then you would refer to the arms of the chair falling off rather than coming to bits. But now that I remember, it has to be said that heavy rain comes down in buckets, so why should chairs not be able to come down in bits? At least for the sake of poetic licence? At least for the sake of being able to use an expression referred to as style? Therefore accept that chairs come to bits, although preferably they should simply fall, topple, or come crashing down. The person who does end up in pieces is the poor wretch who was sitting in this chair and is seated there no longer, but falling, as is the case, and style will exploit the variety of words which never say the same thing, however much we might want them to. If they were to say the same thing, if they were to group together through affinity of structure and origin, then life would be much simpler, by means of successive reduction, down to onomatopoeia which is not simple either, and so on and so forth, probably to silence, to what we might term the general synonym or omnivalent. It is not even onomatopoeia, or cannot be formed from this articulated sound (since the human voice does not have pure, unarticulated sounds, except perhaps in singing, and even then one would have to listen up close) formed in the throat of the person who is toppling or falling although no star, both words with heraldic echoes, which now describe anything which is about to come to pieces, therefore it did not sound right to join the parallel ending to this verb, which would settle the choice and complete the circle. Thus proving that the world is not perfect.

One could say that the chair about to topple is perfect. But times change, tastes and values change, what once seemed perfect is no longer judged to be so, for reasons beyond our control, yet which would not be reasons had times not changed. Or time. How much time need not concern us, nor need we describe or simply specify the style of furniture which would identify the chair as being one of many, especially since as a chair it naturally belongs to a simple sub-group or collateral branch, altogether different in size and function, from these sturdy patriarchs, known as tables, sideboards, wardrobes, display-cabinets for silver and crockery, or beds from which it is obviously much more difficult, if not impossible, to fall, for it is while getting out of bed that one is in danger of breaking a leg or while getting into bed that one can slip on the mat, when in fact the breaking of a leg was not precisely caused by slipping on the mat. Nor do we think it important to say from what kind of wood such a small item of furniture is made, its very name suggests it was destined to fall, unless the Latin verb cetera is some linguistic trap, if cetera is indeed Latin, as it sounds it ought to be. Any tree would have served with the exception of pine which has exhausted its properties in the making of warships and is now quite commonplace, or cherry which can easily warp, or the fig-tree which is prone to splintering, especially in hot weather or when one reaches out too far along the branch to pluck a fig; with the exception of these trees which are flawed, and others because of the many properties they possess, as in the case of ironwood which never decays yet has too much weight for the required volume. Another unsuitable wood is ebony, which is simply another name for ironwood, and we have already seen the problem of using synonyms or what are assumed to be synonyms. Not so much in this analysis of botanical matters which pays no attention to synonyms, yet scrupulously observes the two different names which different people have given to the same thing. You may be sure that the name ironwood was given or weighed up by whoever had to carry it on his back. There is no safer bet.

Were it made of ebony, we should probably have to classify the chair that is falling as being perfect, and by using verbs such as to classify or categorise, we will prevent it from falling, or only let it fall very much later, for example, a hundred years hence, when its fall would no longer be of any use to us. It is possible that another chair may topple in its place, in order to produce the same fall with a similar result, but that would mean telling a different story, not the story of what happened because it is happening, but the story of what might happen. Certainty is preferable by far, especially when you have been waiting for something far from certain.

However, we must acknowledge a degree of perfection in this singular chair which is still falling. It was not purpose-made for the body which has been sitting in it for many years but chosen instead for its design, so as to match rather than clash excessively with the other items of furniture nearby or at a distance, not made of pine, or cherry, or fig, for the reasons already stated, but of a wood commonly used for durable, high-quality furniture, for example, mahogany. This is a hypothesis which exempts us from any further verification, incidentally quite undeliberate, of the wood used to carve, mould, shape, glue, assemble, tighten up and allow to dry, this chair which is near to collapsing. So let us settle for mahogany and say no more. Except to mention how pleasant and comfortable the chair is to sit in, and if it has arms and is made entirely of mahogany, how pleasant to touch that solid and mysterious surface of smoothly polished wood, and if the arms are curved, the kind of shoulder, knee or hip-bone that curve possesses.

Mahogany, for example, unfortunately does not have the resistance of the aforementioned ebony or ironwood. The experience of men and carpenters has proved as much, and any one of us, if we can work up enough enthusiasm for these scientific matters, will be able to test this for ourselves by biting into each of these different woods and judging the difference. A normal canine tooth, however unfit to prove its strength in a circus ring, will leave a nice clear imprint on mahogany. But not on ebony. Quod erat demonstrandum. Whereupon we can assess the problems of rot.

There will be no police inquiry, although this might have been exactly the right moment, when the chair was tilting at a mere two degrees, since, if the whole truth be told, the sudden dislocation of the centre of gravity may be irremediable, especially when uncompensated by an instinctive reflex or force subject to that reflex; this might be the moment, I repeat, to give the order, a strict order to take everything back from this moment which cannot be postponed, not so much to the tree (or trees, for there is no guarantee that all the items of furniture come from the same planks of wood), but to the merchant, storekeeper, joiner, stevedore, shipping company responsible for shipping from remote parts the tree-trunk stripped of its branches and roots. As far back as might be necessary in order to discover where the rot first set in and what caused it. Sounds, as we know, are articulated in the throat, but they will not be capable of giving this order. They simply hesitate, as yet unaware that they are vacillating,

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  • (4/5)
    Saramago's stories are like modern fairy tales, mysterious, magical and drawing together elements of contemporary life with a liberal dose of mythology and impossibilities. Even when his meaning is obscure (or lost in translation, as may easily be the case) his short stories in The Life of Things feel beautiful. They conjure up a world that rivals the imagery of Pan's Labyrinth or Mirrormask, familiar yet strange and a bit intimidating for all its slow, quiet mundanity.

    The first of the stories in this book addresses the absurdly random, seemilgly arbitrary death of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, the dictator who controlled Portugal until 1968. Salazar suffered a brain hemorrhage after falling and hitting his head, and while there is now evidence to suggest he was in a bathtub when he hit his head, the popular story is that he fell from his chair. Saramago's story explores the fated inevitability of his fall, from his chair, and thus from power.

    The rest of the stories in this collection are a bit easier to follow than "The Chair", but all of these stories offer interesting, clever, or beautiful twists to our perception of the world around us. I still prefer Saramago's longer fiction, where he has more space to set up his characters and scenes, but these shorter pieces are still excellent.
  • (4/5)
    This was my first Saramago foray, and I had very high expectations going in. I started with this one because sometimes life only gives you time enough to read short stories, ya know? "The Lives of Things" was first published in Portuguese in 1978, and this nice paperback edition was translated in 2012. The title announces the theme. In each of the 7 short stories, Saramago doesn't explore the mere existence of things, but supposes worlds where things assert themselves as unreifiable objects. In "Things," a futuristic caste society experiences the revolution of OUMIs (objects, utensils, machines or installations). At first small objects disappear and then whole city blocks. In "Reflux," a King, haunted by death, chooses to rid his kingdom of it, digging up all prior remains for deposition in a vast common (but distant) cemetery. Eventually, a new economy grows around the cemetery, and then new towns, etc. Death, the ultimate (and most frightening) Thing, wends its way back to the center of life. In "Embargo," a man dependent on fuel in a rationed economy, spends an unusual day stuck in various lines for petrol, as his car apparently (and mysteriously) breaks down. I won't spoil it, but suffice it to say that the distinction between man and machine is challenged. Similarly, Saramago challenges the distinction between man and chattel by considering the haunted existence of the last remaining centaur, supposing man and beast are "stuck" in analogous ways to Embargo's main character. Saramago evokes a Kafka vibe, which is to say his worlds are by and large bureaucratic and bewildering. It’s not hard to see from these stories why he is so taken by Goncalo Tavares’s work.Pride of place really needs to go to the first story, "The Chair," which makes much more sense if you understand the unannounced context of the story. In 1968, the authoritarian Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveira was sunbathing on his deck chair when it broke and he tumbled backwards, causing the brain hemorrhage which would remove him from power and eventually kill him. Saramago begins the chair’s story mere seconds before the chair snaps, and it ends with Oliveira’s head making contact with the ground. So, all told the 25 page story describes about 2 seconds in time. And it is just marvelous.